I was melting some chocolate chips in the microwave the other day for a glaze, and I threw in the 2 tablespoons of butter called for in the recipe, figuring they’d just melt together as they usually do. I’ve never had problems with melting chocolate and butter together before, but on this occasion I guess the combination of having only a small amount of butter, and having it melt slowly along with the chocolate, resulted in just enough water being released from the butter to make the chocolate seize.
Uh-oh. Seized chocolate. I hate it when this happens. Usually it’s the result of water getting into the chocolate, either from a bain-marie or from stray water droplets on a spoon or something, and I avoid it by going the microwave route. But I was well and truly stuck this time– the chocolate was the consistency of rapidly-drying mortar, and despite my melting some extra butter into it, hoping the fat would bring it back, there was nothing to be done. So I stuck it in the fridge and figured I’d make something with it later.
A week later the chocolate was still staring at me from the fridge and my husband and I were doing a fridge clean-out, so it was use it or lose it. I pulled it out, along with a partially-used block of cream cheese that was at least a month old and a jar of leftover praline paste from my Gateau St. Honoré, and tried to figure out something to do with them.
When I was in Paris I finally got the chance to try the famous Gateau St. Honoré– a toothsome confection consisting of a layer of puff pastry, topped with a piped choux pastry swirl, topped with a ring of caramel-dipped cream puffs, and filled with fluffy cream. It was rich, decadent, and begging to be reproduced at home. Of course, I can rarely leave well enough alone, so when I decided to try making one I thought it would be delicious to incorporate elements of another famous French dessert, the Paris Brest.
Paris Brest is made of a large ring of choux pastry (meant to resemble a bicycle wheel, as the dessert was created in honor of a bicycle race), which is split and filled with a praline mousseline cream. The praline is made of caramelized hazelnuts and almonds, pulverized until they turn into paste, which is then folded into the cream.
I actually vacillated between which of these desserts to make, as both sounded fantastic, but in the end the Gateau St. Honoré– being both more complicated (I always love a challenge) and involving puff pastry, which I always adore– won out. But instead of the regular chiboust (mixture of plain pastry cream and Italian meringue) to fill the center, I made two changes: First, I used diplomat cream (mixture of pastry cream and whipped cream) instead of chiboust cream, because I hate making Italian meringue– too fiddly with the sugar syrup. Second, I decided to add praline paste to the cream to deepen the caramel flavor of the dessert.
The result? Spectacular. The flakiness of the puff pastry base adds just enough textural interest to the slightly firmer choux pastry and the gobs of creamy, hazelnut-kissed filling. The hard caramel dip on the cream puffs is just enough to crunch between your teeth and provide a hint of bitterness, and the dessert as a whole is light yet rich. I will absolutely make this again the next time I need an impressive finish to a meal.